Written in collaboration with Clarity Counseling, by Tessa Torgeson
For many people, the holidays evoke a tide of emotions ranging from celebration and gratitude, to stress and anxiety. It’s enough to make anyone feel swept up in the undertow. Stress is magnified in individuals who struggle with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, or addictions. Add the American holiday traditions involving excess and indulgences in food, alcohol, or parties, and the undertow feels more like a rip current.
With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror, holiday season is decidedly upon us. With food being the epicenter of most holiday gatherings, we are inundated with messages that encourage and condone overeating. The messages themselves are as insidious as the bugs on the Jungian picture included with this post.
Think about all of the messages we encounter in a day that are obvious, subtle, or even unconscious: finish your plate, all you can eat, unlimited refills, indulge, treat yourself, I am bored so I might as well eat.
These thoughts and beliefs are counter-intuitive to our body’s biological needs. They tell us to ignore our body telling us it’s full. To keep going. Worst of all, these thoughts gnaw at us and can perpetuate a cycle of shame and guilt. Plus, when we gorge on foods, we often do not even take the time to fully taste and appreciate them.
Just as gorging is counter-intuitive to our body, so are harsh, restrictive diets that do not allow us to appreciate the fullness and vitality of holiday foods. Aspire for equilibrium. Strive for balance.
The holidays are a wonderful time for mindful eating. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when moderately full. It is important year-round because it helps us keep in sync with what our body truly needs rather than what it wants. It is healthy instead of destructive and defeating.
Mindful eating is especially important during the holidays because it allows us to be more present and fully engaged in appreciating our meals, families, and friends. It allows us to truly taste the labors of love of everything from grandma’s lefse, to your neighbor’s peanut brittle, to the office mate’s chocolate covered pretzels. We can keep in tune with mindful eating and our bodies’ signals by simply taking a small serving or taste of these foods. This is a way we allow ourselves the pleasure of a treat without feeling guilty or depriving ourselves either.
Mindful eating is something we can all strive for during the holiday season. Learning to listen to one’s body and not literally feed into emotions is unfortunately more complex than a matter of willpower. It takes patience, time, and support.
Society does not give us a compass for mindful eating, especially not for those of us struggling with food issues or eating disorders. It’s easy to feel lost without a compass, a support for these issues. If you are struggling with an unhealthy relationship with food, Clarity Counseling can help you to foster a positive one.